Sergey Brin has posted a response to the Guardian’s interview with him. (He posted it on Google Plus which means I have been on Google Plus twice now! Watch out Facebook!)
One clarification is particularly relevant to my previous comments:
I became an entrepreneur during the 90’s, the boom time of what you might now call Web 1.0. Yahoo created a directory of all the sites they could find without asking anyone for permission.
Today, starting such a service would entail navigating a number of new tollbooths and gatekeepers.
This is the most explicit I have seen Google be about one of their fundamental disagreements with things like copyright. He objects to the need for permission. He sees the need to get permission from someone else as fundamentally at odds with entrepreneurialism. It’s easy to see how that view is incompatible with the whole idea of copyright.
It’s also a clear enunciation of why Google is in a poor position to lead this debate. It’s obvious that a business which depends on the agreement of someone else, particularly in the IP field, would be advantaged if they could just do as they pleased regardless of whether that person agreed or not. Many businesses would love to be freed from regulatory and commercial restrictions, simply be able to ignore the rights and interests of others when they are inconvenient. That doesn’t make it right, though, even when the restriction makes it harder or even impossible to do certain kinds of business and “innovate” in certain ways.
The “tollbooths” and “gateways” which Sergey objects to have, in relation to copyright anyway, always been there. The law has never said it’s OK to just copy, keep and exploit anything you want, regardless of whether you have permission. If, as a consequence of the legal reality being ignored, some people have set up systems which technically restrict what the law has always restricted anyway that’s more likely a response to their interests being damaged than a fundamental shift in anything. Reality, you could say, is finally biting.
In truth, unfair advantages lead to unfair outcomes. Google is a massive and mind-bogglingly rich company, run by some of the most mind-bogglingly rich young scamps in the world, and the largest and most powerful aggregator of content and data ever seen. It has become so by exploiting content created by others. Even if this has by-and-large been done with tacit or “implied” permission, the idea that it doesn’t require permission in law or in reality, has never been true. So when some people decide that they don’t like it anymore, and prevent their content and data from being accessed by Google, it might not suit Google but it also is fundamentally wrong to present it as a threat to anything other than Google’s commercial interests.
Permission is the bedrock of copyright and so of professional creativity. When Google argues that their service and others should be exempt from the need for permission, they are arguing not for the interests of society at large, or entrepreneurs, or innovation, or free speech. They’re arguing for the interests of their shareholders.
Google should stop whinging and instead go out there and do some deals which work for their suppliers as well as themselves.
Policy makers, in the meantime, should take note.